Lori Freitas Houghton

Lori Freitas Houghton

Editor

Updated : 04/15/2020

Auditions are heart-pounding enough! Creating an acting resume shouldn’t be stressful. Our resume templates for actors will guide you through the process, so you can save your energies and focus your talents on your performances.

Table Of Contents

Introduction

Acting is a unique profession. It requires a set of specialized skills and attributes that don’t always translate into work terminology. And the experiences that help an actor gain knowledge and expertise often don’t fit neatly into a traditional resume format.

Creating a strong acting resume requires a significantly different process than regular resumes. Hiring managers (usually casting directors, directors, or producers) still have their own set of expectations or “resume rules” that are important to follow. And like many creative professions, a resume is just a part of a comprehensive acting portfolio to showcase your talents.

We’ll walk you through the best resume format for actors and show you how to write each section and highlight your skills, so you can take your acting career to a bigger stage.

1. The Best Resume Format for Actors

Acting resumes are sparer on details than most traditional resumes. And dates usually aren’t listed. This makes a big difference in the flexibility of how you compose your work history – enabling you to customize your resume for each opportunity and feature the most impressive and relevant work first.

For example, if you’re applying for a part in a Shakespeare festival, you would want to list your stage experience first, particularly your Shakespearean experience. If you are seeking a film role, you’d want to highlight film experience first. Acting resumes simply have greater flexibility in listing work experience because the industry norm doesn’t expect dates to be listed on the resume. So order it in the most relevant and flattering order.

The best resume format for actors includes the same sections as traditional resumes, but differs in how much information to include. You will list roles, training, and skills without the usual bulleted explanations. We’ll go over each section in detail, so you know just what to do.

Here are some general tips before we get into specifics:

  • Your acting resume should always fit on a single sheet of paper, no exceptions, with your headshot on the back (in the physical/non-digital form).

  • Your work experience isn’t titled “Work Experience.” It is the list of your acting credits. There is flexibility in how you list them, but they should be grouped by type of acting (film, commercials, television, stage, voiceover, etc.).

  • If you don’t have a lot of acting experience, white space is okay and, in fact, encouraged. Don’t add information that’s not relevant just to “fill up” your resume. White space allows casting directors to read your resume more easily. So use that white space to create a more appealing design for your resume (rather than crowding all your information at the top and leaving a half page empty).

  • When you’re just getting started, include any relevant experience. In the early years of an acting career, even your high school plays or being an extra in a small film can count as relevant work experience. See more details below, in the section on “Getting experience when you’re just starting out.”

  • Once you’ve gained more reputable experience, don’t include work such as high school plays or being an extra on your resume. You’re always trading up and when you gain more valuable experience, you should start deleting less valuable experience on your one-page.

2. How to Write and Format Your Resume for Actors

Your Contract and Introductory Information

Regular resumes begin with your name and basic contact information. Acting resumes begin with your name, but below your name are listed any union affiliations. The major players are SAG-AFTRA for movies and TV or Equity/AEA for stage acting. Joining these unions can come with significant advantages — contract benefits, healthcare plans and exclusive auditions — but you’ll have to meet eligibility requirements and pay membership dues to qualify as a union-affiliated actor. If you’re not a member of either, go straight to the contact information.

The contact information you list depends on whether or not you have an agent. If you are working with an agency, you’d usually list the agent’s contact information. Some agents prefer using their own letterhead or influencing how their information is listed. Usually your personal contact information is omitted.

If you don’t have an agent, underneath your name, you should include your cell phone number, a professional email address, and possibly your address. It’s standard practice now to list your city and state (rather than your physical address), as so many resumes end up online and your information is available for many to see.

A key difference between an acting resume and a traditional resume is that underneath that standard contact information, you should include your height, weight, eye color, and hair color. Don’t include your age unless you’re under 18. If you’re looking to do musical theater or are trying out for any role with singing, you could list your voice part here too (e.g. tenor, alto, etc.). Or list that in the last section with skills.

Your Acting Experience

This is the main section of your resume, similar to the Work Experience section on a traditional resume. A reminder, you do not list the dates you worked on these roles.

There are different types of acting credits, and each of them is formatted differently:

  • Film/Television – First, an important note: never list film and television credits under the same section on your resume, as this is considered unprofessional. Film credits belong in one section and television credits in another, though their format is similar.

For these sections, first list the title of the show or film, then the type of role (lead, co-star, supporting, etc.), then the network or production company, and finally, the director’s name.

✓ Film

Back to the Future

Supporting

Universal Pictures / Dir: Robert Zemeckis

✓ Television
2 Broke Girls

Guest Star

Warner Bros. Television / Dir. Dan Scardino

  • Commercial – Acting roles in commercials (television, online, or print ads) need to be treated differently than all your other acting roles because businesses get nervous that you will be featured in a competing product’s commercial. Let’s say, for example, that you did a commercial ten years ago for a mortgage company. And let’s say that ten years ago, you were so much younger that you’d be barely recognizable. If you list that commercial experience, any business that views itself as competing with a mortgage company may see that listing and pass on your resume. You don’t want to give people any reason to pass on your resume. So the recommended approach is to list “Conflicts [meaning conflicts of interest or competition] available upon request.” Here’s how that would look on a resume:

✓ Commercial

Conflicts available upon request.

  • Theater – Formatting for theater roles is similar to film and television roles, but there are a few key differences. First, list the name of the production or play, then your character’s name, then the theater company’s name and where it took place.

✓ Theater

Hamilton

Aaron Burr

CIBC Theatre, Chicago, IL

In any of these categories, it can be smart to give brief details on more prestigious roles, giving the listing more credibility. For example, let’s say you had a small role in a single season series no one remembers, but the show starred a recognizable name. Or you were in a play with the Original Broadway Cast – you can list those details. Typically, this is done on the same line, using smaller font and parentheses. For example:

✓ Television

Selfie (w/ John Cho)

Guest Star

Warner Bros. Television / Dir. Elliot Hegart

Gentle reminder: don’t lie on your resume and say you’ve had roles you haven’t. It’s easy for casting directors to catch you, as the acting world is a fairly tight-knit community and it’s easy enough to check out clips and images from films, plays, and commercials online. And it’s easy to look up your profile on imdb.com. Don’t risk your reputation–and your career–just to fill out your resume.

Getting experience if you’re just starting out

There’s no single path to an acting career. Some actors try to make it (and a few succeed) directly out of high school, while most hone their craft in college. Others study with private coaches. Sometimes the name recognition of a respected acting coach is enough to open doors for you, though no degree may be attached.

Getting experience if you’re just starting out

Regardless of your education level, the most important way to prepare yourself for the next level is through acting experience. Something as simple as a small role in a local theatre production or a college play can help you grow in your skills and confidence.

These entry-level jobs aren’t the most glamorous, but they provide valuable networking opportunities and help you refine your acting techniques and fill your resume. They show that you are committed to your craft, and demonstrate your exposure to the basics of acting, such as how production sets and rehearsals run.

Common introductory acting jobs include:

  • Community theatre:

    Wherever you’re living, chances are there are local playhouses and theatres looking for actors to cast in their shows.

  • Local commercials:

    Small companies are always looking for new ways to promote their businesses, so be on the lookout whenever they release casting calls.

  • Content videos for brands:

    In the social media age, more and more brands are looking to advertise their company with clips that go viral. If you luck out and your video makes it big, this is a great way to get some national exposure.

Your training and education

The training, education, and skills sections on your resume should be short and to the point. Don’t include summary statements or bullet points.

In your training and education section (simply labeled “Training”), list all the relevant training you’ve received so far, including acting classes, workshops, formal training, and more. If you’ve taken extensive workshops, just list the most impressive ones.

Here’s how: start with the name of your acting teacher, then follow it with what type of class it was, and the location of the training. For any current classes, write “ongoing” in parenthesis. For your degree, list the degree, institution, and location. Here’s some examples:

✓ Training Example

Bruce Katzman (ongoing)

Classics – Shakespeare

Stella Adler Academy, Los Angeles

BFA, Theatre

Northwestern University

Evanston, IL

In what order do you list your training? That is flexible. You want to feature your strongest elements. Let’s say you have a degree from a prestigious acting program. You might list that first. Or, perhaps you have a degree from an unremarkable program, but you have worked with some recognizable diction or movement coaches in the meantime. You’d list those trainings first, and your degree after. If in doubt, you can list your training in reverse chronology. Again, it is not necessary to list dates.

Your Acting Skills

Your skills section is the last part on your resume. You can afford to be a little creative here, but keep it professional— a casting director will briefly scan this to see if you have a relevant skill-set, but this section doesn’t weigh heavily in decisions. List skills like dialects, musical talents, dancing ability, or anything else you think might be relevant. Don’t list too much or you may appear unserious, desperate to distinguish yourself. Focus on analogous skills. Here’s an example:

✓ Acting Skills Example
  • Vocal range: Tenor (two octaves to top C)

  • Dance – Jazz and Tap

  • Dialects: Southern, British Cockney, Australian

  • Sports: Strong Swimmer, Snowskiing, Waterskiing, Horseback Riding – Western

  • Music: Drums and Acoustic Guitar

  • Fencing/Stage Combat

Customizing this section is smart. If you’re auditioning for a part in a television series that features a lot of motorcycles, you might want to include that you ride motorcycles, though you’d normally leave out that type of detail. If you’re auditioning for a play that’s set in a circus and you ride a unicycle, again, that might be a reason to include what you’d otherwise omit.

3. How to Create an Acting Portfolio

Your acting portfolio consists of your acting resume as well as your headshot and your acting reel. You could also include different versions of your resume, tailored more by specialization. For example, a resume focused on doing commercials would feature a different kind of headshot; instead of a single shot, it would likely feature composite headshots in costumes. So your portfolio could include different versions of acting resumes. Each should be one page.

Your Acting Headshot

Your Acting Headshot

It’s hard to overstate the importance of your acting headshot. The entertainment field is a visual field and your headshot might instantly open or close doors. Search thoroughly for a professional photographer who specializes in taking headshots for actors. This is not the appropriate situation for a selfie or a friend’s shot with his phone. Of course, it’s possible to make your own headshots, but imagine your headshot with a stack of others and how quickly it will be eliminated if it looks amateur. You want to be confident that yours looks professional.

A common complaint of casting directors is that the actor arrives and looks nothing like her headshot. Now both parties feel let down. So remember: you want a flattering photograph, but you also want a clearly recognizable photograph. A basic headshot rule: It should look like you. Makeup should be minimal and natural and apparel should be undistracting.

Some situations require a digital photo and resume and others require a physical one. In larger organizations or more urban settings, digital is most likely what is expected. At a local community theatre, you’d want to be able to drop by headshot and resume. And many large professional regional theatres still prefer a hard copy.

For a physical copy, the headshot should be 8×10 in size and printed on medium-to-heavy weight paper that has a matte or luster finish. Some people recommend printing your resume directly on the back of the headshot, but this makes it harder to update and change your resume as you obtain bigger and better roles. A simpler solution is to staple your resume to the back of your headshot in two opposite corners, cutting off any excess paper in the margins of the resume.

Digital headshots and resumes open up more possibilities for customization. When you get your headshots taken, make sure you have access to a range of photos. Different moods and settings (indoor and studio vs. outdoor and naturalistic) can be helpful. Perhaps for a role as an earnest intellectual, you’d submit a particular photo. And you’d submit a much different photo for a role where you’d depict a scary thug.

Your Acting Reel

To show off your work in a more attention-grabbing way, make sure you have an acting reel in your portfolio. Ideally, your reel is composed of four to five different performances which showcase your range of ability. The entire video should be no longer than three minutes. That way, you ensure you’re focusing on only your “greatest hits” and also are courteous of the casting director’s time and energy.

Your Acting Reel

You can edit it yourself with widely available video software, but keep in mind you’re looking to craft a professional-quality reel. If you don’t think you’re up to the task, hire someone with video editing experience to put it together for you. Then all you have to do is choose clips that set you apart as an actor and they’ll worry about the rest.

Websites

If you have an agent, that agency will most likely have a website and can inform you of the type of media and resume you should upload. Many actors, especially those without agents, find having their own website is valuable in order to make visual media accessible to potential casting directors. You can include not only your headshot, but multiple headshots, as well as production photos and links to (positive) critical reviews of your work.

Networking

Networking is important in any field, but it is particularly important in a field like acting where there are so many barriers to access. It is important to cultivate relationships, whether you’re interested in community theatre or world stardom. The creative side of the entertainment industry tends to be very closely connected and you never know when a friend of a friend will get you the audition you otherwise couldn’t get.

Audition Log

In order to help with networking, consider keeping an audition log. This is a record of all the auditions you’ve been on. If you want to be an actor, expect to go to many, many auditions in order to land a role. Each audition hones your skills and connects you to more people.

Once you’ve gone on several auditions, they will start to blur together. An audition log (just an informal tool for your own benefit) helps you remember the details so that you can use them to network. It’s helpful to record:

✓ The Date

✓ Who you auditioned for

✓ How you got the audition

Example: Through your agent, network or your own efforts

✓ What you read or slanged

✓ What you wore

Example: Why remember what you wore? Let’s say, for example, that callbacks happen three weeks after the original audition. You want to be memorable to those casting decision makers. So it’s smart to wear the same thing that you wore the first time to jog their memories.

✓ Memory refreshing details of those you met

Example: A note about conversations you had and names is helpful. Remember that today’s casting director assistants may be tomorrow’s casting directors.

4. How to Write a Cover Letter for an Acting Resume

Cover letters aren’t as common in the entertainment industry. More often, an agent or agency plays that role in introducing the job candidate.

Occasionally, there is a need or call for a cover letter. If that is the case, do some legwork up front. Reach out to the casting director of the production you’re applying to be in and see if you can arrange some face-to-face interaction. If you establish name recognition, you’re more likely to get your cover letter and resume considered from the hundreds that pile up in the casting director’s inbox.

Scrap the generalized cover letter. It won’t help you land a coveted acting role. Instead, address your cover letter to the specific casting director for each particular role. The most effective letters will grab their attention immediately. If you’ve met the casting director in person, even better. Mention that personal connection to remind the casting director where you two met. This personalization will show that you’re invested in this particular role, not just any role in general.

The best way to stand out with your acting cover letter is to convey why you’re the best fit for the role (ex: girl-next-door, nerdy guy, etc.). Talk about your past acting performances. This is your opportunity to get a little more meat on the bare bones of your resume and add relevant details. This is also a location where you could include quotes from favorable reviews made about your productions or performances. Highlight the type of roles you’ve played that you believe the casting director is seeking.

About the Author

Lori Freitas Houghton

Lori Freitas Houghton

Editor

In her 15+ years in human resources, Lori Freitas Houghton has worked on both sides of the hiring equation. She’s experienced as a recruiter and partner with hiring managers. She is also a proven career coach with a high success rate at helping job candidates create breakthrough resumes that gain them interviews. With a BA in English and a Master of Organizational Behavior (MBA) degree, Lori also has considerable experience writing and editing HR content.

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